The race to reach the Premier League nears its end

Neil Warnock's Queens Park Rangers are almost there, but who will join them?
Neil Warnock's Queens Park Rangers are almost there, but who will join them?

With two games each to go and six points available, there is still plenty to be decided in the Championship promotion race.

Leaders Queens Park Rangers have had two false starts in their bid to wrap up an automatic place - the latter a draw with Hull City - and still have their disciplinary hearing to come, which could provide another twist.

QPR lead by five points from second-placed Norwich City, who in turn are a point ahead of Cardiff City in the battle for the second automatic spot.

Fourth-placed Swansea City could in theory reach Norwich on points but that is unlikely, meaning that they will have to settle for the play-off place that they sealed on Monday with a 4-1 win against Ipswich.

Reading are on the verge of joining them but suffered a shock home setback at the hands of relegation-threatened Sheffield United.

Then there is a four-way battle for the last play-off place currently held by Nottingham Forest, who are two points ahead of Millwall and Burnley, while Leeds are three points adrift.

Grant Holt
Captain Grant Holt has scored 22 goals for Norwich City

Hull and Leicester are, mathematically, still in the hunt, but would need all of the teams from Forest down to slip up if they were to have any hope.

On paper, Norwich City should take maximum points against Portsmouth and Coventry to seal remarkable back-to-back promotions for Paul Lambert's side, who often leave it late to see off teams.

"It's certainly not good for the nerves," said Norwich manager Lambert.

"Now we know that, if we win our last two games, we are up - but obviously that is a lot easier said than done.

"I'm delighted for the players and also for the fans. They have been brilliant for us all season, both at home and away."

For Cardiff, all they can do is win both of their remaining games and hope Norwich slip up, otherwise it will be the play-offs again for last season's losing finalists.

"It will go to the last week," said manager Dave Jones. "We'll keep digging in, keep going and you never know in this division. We've got to keep applying the pressure."

While the Bluebirds would prefer automatic promotion, they would still be a force to be reckoned with in the play-offs, particularly with a strikeforce boasting Craig Bellamy, Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra.

Their chances could, however, depend on any psychological impact of missing out on automatic promotion, although that also applies to Norwich, should they miss out.

Swansea can be ruthless at home, having comfortably disposed of Norwich, Forest and Leeds this season.

The Swans' struggles away from home could be their undoing. But manager Brendan Rodgers, in his first season in charge, remains confident.

Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers celebrates with his players
Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers celebrates with his players

"Because of all the drama and trauma of just missing out on the play-offs last season this is a great achievement," he said. "But they aren't all singing and dancing about being in the play-offs.

"We are more ambitious than that. A top two finish is out of our hands, but we will keep on fighting.

"There are some good sides left in the play-offs, but we won't fear any of them."

Rodgers' former club Reading have been the form team, on a run of eight straight victories. But, with a draw and defeat in their last two games, they may have peaked too soon.

"We look set for the play-offs and, 12 games ago, I did not think we could get here," said manager Brian McDermott.

"It is important to get third or fourth place and get the play-off home game second, but 12 games ago we would have taken sixth. I will take whatever comes up."

Then that leaves Forest, Millwall, Burnley and Leeds.

Forest have clawed their way back into contention after a dreadful run of form, but still do not look assured of claiming the last spot.

Millwall, another team looking for successive promotions, should not be underestimated, as their only defeats to sides above them in the second half of the season have been against Norwich and Reading.

"To be still in with a play-off chance at this stage of the season is a great achievement in itself," said manager Kenny Jackett. "But we've got some very good company in the sides around us."

Burnley looked like they were going to make a late push, but mixed results have stalled their bid, while Leeds have slowly slipped down, not helped by having the worst defensive record of all of the contenders and arguably the toughest run-in.

"We want to turn a good season into a great season," said Leeds manager Simon Grayson.

"It is out of our hands now. A few weeks ago it was down to us. If it doesn't happen this year then we will come back again and try next year."

Remaining matches:

Queens Park Rangers: Watford (A), Leeds (H)

Norwich City: Portsmouth (A), Coventry (H)

Cardiff City: Middlesbrough (H), Burnley (A)

Swansea City: Millwall (A), Sheffield United (H)

Reading: Coventry (A), Derby (H)

Nottingham Forest: Scunthorpe (H), Crystal Palace (A)

Millwall: Swansea (H), Barnsley (A)

Burnley: Leeds (A), Cardiff (H)

Leeds United: Burnley (H), QPR (A)

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